How to Automate Your Accounts Receivable Process
Accounts receivable (AR) teams are often overwhelmed with tedious and costly manual processes. Performing the receivable process manually wastes time and money, causes errors, and results in lost documents and compliance breaches.
At the same time, there has been a prominent fear that automation could cost accounts receivable (AR) teams their jobs. But that anxiety is becoming unfounded. Instead, it has significantly reduced the need to waste hours on data entry and invoice corrections.
AR departments worldwide also struggle with time. There's never enough of it when you must send, follow up on, and reconcile invoices by hand.
It's common for CFOs and their teams to spend 90% of their time on financial close. Manual processes –from mailing invoices to correcting billing mistakes– mean less time to analyze data and design competitive workflow strategies.
To make matters worse, spending time on these repetitive processes doesn't guarantee results. Across industries, organizations of all sizes struggle to get paid on time. AR teams in 26 industries reported that over 10% of their payments are over 90 days past due.
AR management can't longer be a purely manual process. It's unsustainable. But automation can turn the tide.
Automating AR processes can address these problems and enhance the efficiency of the AR team. AR automation benefits include reduced DSO and saved time for financial close, freeing up teams for more high-value tasks. One study found that 80% of businesses that used automated AR software said this approach made their accounting process more efficient and successful.
Keep reading to learn how to turn the manual AR process into an automated, well-oiled machine.
What is Accounts Receivable Automation?
Working collaboratively is critical when moving from a manual to an automated AR process. Implementing a successful accounts receivable automation involves several moving parts. You aren't migrating your manual process into a digital format. That's an ERP.
It's tempting to believe that a solid ERP like NetSuite or Sage Intacct will solve these problems. They do help. But a state-of-the-art ERP will only save time and money if there's an automation component.
You need to reorientate your payment processing method with an AR automation solution for efficiency and work with your AR team, IT department, third-party vendors, and management team.
What is the difference between an ERP and an AR automation tool? An ERP still employs manual processing for data entry. Meanwhile, automation is a workflow that requires little to no human interference. Once an AR automation solution is configured, it should require minimum tweaking and upkeep.
When it comes to the receivables process, it's common to automate:
- Collections and follow-ups
- Payment processing
- Issuing receipts
Why Automate Accounts Receivable?
Accounts receivable automation is more than adding digital payment options and hoping your clients pay on time. An AR automation solution should reduce costs and DSO time while freeing working capital and providing rich data for payment tracking.
It should also offer a seamless and flexible customer experience to encourage fast payments. The easier it is to fill an invoice, the quicker your customer's AP department will complete the payment.
The right AR automation software can reduce time spent on financial close and free your team for more high-value tasks. According to a B2B payments study, organizations that automate AR processes save 23 days on their DSO. With automation, AR teams can process functions 87% faster, and 79% say it boosts team efficiency.
What is the first step to setting up an automated accounts receivable system?
The first step to setting up an automated AR system is to map out the workflow, key objectives, and urgent bottlenecks. This may be the most time-consuming part of the exercise, especially if your business has layers of invoicing complexity. It's common for a finance team to decide to simplify parts of the process.
Mapping your workflow is essential to understanding what features you need from an accounts receivable automation software. It will determine which manual process can be automated and which should remain hands-on easier. It's also common to map your AP process simultaneously, especially if you are also considering AP automation tools.
In addition, you will want to have a clear goal in mind. This will determine your next steps, such as which processes to simplify, selecting initial tasks to automate, or establishing your KPIs
Some common goals to begin:
- Reduce inefficiency
- Decrease transaction fees
- Remove doubtful accounts
- Speed up payment processing
- Improve customer satisfaction
- Maintain healthy cash flow with attainable payment terms
- Increase organization-wide visibility
- Connect to critical business systems
Clearly defined goals and conditions make the evaluation process much easier in the long run.
20 questions to help you document your AR process
As you map out your receivable process, you will want to ask yourself and your team specific questions to pinpoint potential inefficiencies:
- How does the team receive information on customers and invoices?
- How do we send invoices to customers?
- What are the data inputs we capture for customers and invoices?
- How many different billing configurations do we offer?
- What are our ideal payment terms, and how does our process ease those terms?
- How do we process customer payments?
- How do we know when a payment is late?
- What do we do with late payment alerts?
- Can you easily follow up with late payments?
- What payment types would our customers prefer?
- How much of the cash cycle is automated.)?
- Will the software integrate with your ERP?
- Does your AR solution offer fraud-prevention technology, such as real-time verification?
- What is the customer experience like?
- Do we charge a convenience fee for credit card payments?
- Do we charge a late fee?
- Can you encourage certain payment types through zero-fee incentives?
- What kind of data does the platform collect?
- Is the software PCI-DSS compliant?
- What are the safety protocols for user data?
4 Best Practices Before Automating Your AR Process
- Build a diverse team. Look for people from varied backgrounds comfortable with new tools and approaches. They should be open to intelligent action steps rather than mired in analysis and legacy systems.
- Involve Staff in the Decision-Making Process. Your accounts receivable team is already familiar with AR operations and their challenges. Take advantage of their knowledge and have them walk you through the current AR process.
- Make cross-collaboration a norm. When people work together, they better understand each other's challenges and capabilities, improving collaboration.
- Encourage experiments. You might not find the accounts receivable automation tool that works for your team on the first try, and that's okay. Instead, identify small projects for quick experiments and shorter feedback cycles.
Evaluate Your Software Options
Look for AR automation software reviews and talk to your peers about their preferences. Make a shortlist of AR platforms and ask them to vet your list or provide an RFP.
Request a demo of the functionality and pricing you need based on your requirements. Ask some of your AR professionals to join you on the call. Some organizations can even provide a customized data test.
Remember to mention your existing systems so they can estimate the transition time, development work, and associated costs. These inputs will help you compare AR automation platforms better and quantify future costs.
Get Buy-in from Decision-Makers
If you're not the only decision-maker, gaining buy-in from those who do is crucial. Contextualize your request to fit in with the organization's goals.
Let's say your company aims to decrease operational costs by 10% next year:
- The CMO wants to create a unified brand presence
- The CTO wants to ensure PCI Level 1 compliance
- The CCO seeks to improve NetPromoter scores by 1 point.
It's up to you to prove how automated AR will support these goals.
Making sure you address the "what's in it for me?" question will help persuade peers and superiors, but that's not all:
- Timing is everything. Consider the best time to present your case. For example, linking AR automation to a new corporate goal.
- Involve others in your pitch. Demonstrating that superiors are already on board with your recommendations will lend weight to your cause.
- Always offer solutions. One of the best ways to drive change is by demonstrating that you've found a solution.
- Provide hard numbers. Give estimations of cost savings due to reduced transaction fees or fewer overdue accounts.
Reduce Costs by 80% with the Right Accounts Receivable Automation Software
The right automation software can drop invoice processing costs by 80%. And businesses that invest in accounts receivable automation software get paid faster, too. Paystand customers can see up to a 60% decrease in DSO and improve cash flow bottlenecks in the AP processes.
- Choozle decreased Days Sales Outstanding by ⅓ in 6 months
- Elenteny Imports doubled invoice volume in a year with no new headcount
- Covetrus dropped transaction fees by a whopping 98%
The time and effort you put into automating AR will deliver significant returns. Are you ready to join these innovative companies in reducing overhead costs, eliminating transaction fees, and streamlining collections? Book a free demo with one of our experts today!